Exercise Desert Flag engagements bolsters India-UAE defence ties

Exercise Desert Flag engagements bolsters India-UAE defence ties
IAF Sukhoi jets undertake manoeuvres. The IAF concluded a high- profile exercise in the UAE which saw participation from five other countries. This outing was designed to promote defence strategic ties between India and the UAE.ANI

The aim was to promote strategic growth and depth against the backdrop of a flurry of high-profile visits by officials from India and the UAE

In what is a first outreach of its kind, following the strengthening of defence and strategic between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and particularly the UAE, the Indian Air Force successfully culminated its participation in Exercise Desert Flag – VI at the UAE’s air force base in Al Dhafra.

Exercise Desert Flag is an annual multi-lateral large force employment exercise hosted by UAE. The sixth edition of the exercise was conducted from March 4th -27th with six nations, including India, taking part with their aerial assets - namely UAE, US, France, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In addition, Jordan, Greece, Qatar, Egypt and South Korea participated as observer forces.

The Indian Ministry of Defence detailed their participation stating “The objectives for the exercise were to expose coalition participating forces to large force employment, sharpen tactical capabilities, and enhance interoperability along with fostering closer relations between the participating forces. The aim for the participating crew and specialist observers was to expose them to operational environment in scenarios requiring multinational forces working together. Timely and seamless induction and de-induction was facilitated by IAF C-17 Globe master aircraft.”

Historic firsts

The exercise for the IAF is just an illustration of the firming of defence and military ties between India and the rest of the Arab world. The aim is to promote strategic growth and depth. The Al Dhafra airbase, incidentally, is the same facility which had provided refuelling support to India’s first five Rafale jets, during their 7,000-km long journey to India from France.

These exercises were preceded by a significant first-ever visit, last December, by Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane who had stopovers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Trade and strategic defence cooperation are now the buzzwords for India and both host nations evinced an interest in acquiring India’s indigenous Akash air defence missiles systems and BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, with negotiations expected to reach an advanced stage soon. The Indian Navy also took part in the IDEX and NAVDEX defence exhibitions in Abu Dhabi late last year. In addition to this INS Mysore, an indigenously built guided missile destroyer, which is deployed in the Gulf region on a mission, also made a port call at Abu Dhabi for three days during the event.

The scope for enhancing military-to-military ties, especially with Saudi Arabia is loaded with potential. India’s thrust towards manufacturing defence items at home is also garnering interest overseas and soon exports of such defence systems could take place. Considering the security threats in South Asia and the Gulf, both India and the GCC countries import large quantities of defence equipment and weapons from other nations. India could alter its imports by actually becoming a reliable supplier.

UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed AL Nahyan’s visit to India last month was to boost trade, energy security and strategic defence.
UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed AL Nahyan’s visit to India last month was to boost trade, energy security and strategic defence.

Exchange of high-profile visits

Running concurrently with the Desert Flag Exercise was a strategic visit to India by UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The boosting of trade, energy security and strategic defence was the cornerstone of this high-profile appointment. This trip came just two months after Indian foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar’s two-day visit to the UAE last November where both countries explored opportunities to collaborate in a “changing world.” These engagements drive home the point that both nations are resolved to staying fully engaged with each other in diverse platforms.

India’s influence and impact in the region, especially the UAE, is without question. Abu Dhabi is India’s third largest trade partner and energy supplier and it plays its part in ensuring that geostrategic energy interests are on an even keel, given that the world is still battling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade has crossed new heights. India’s economic interest in the UAE is reflected by more than 38,000 Indian companies, for example, who are currently registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) – making for nearly 25% of the chamber’s total membership.

A general view of the ADNOC headquarters in Abu Dhabi. India, UAE, and the Arab world, have been increasing trade and strategic engagements at a rapid pace.
A general view of the ADNOC headquarters in Abu Dhabi. India, UAE, and the Arab world, have been increasing trade and strategic engagements at a rapid pace.

New Delhi and Abu Dhabi have resolved that trade between them should increase by at least 60% by 2022 and the latter has become an integral part of India’s growth story with investments in projects creating mega industrial manufacturing corridors, such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor as well as the Digital India and Make In India projects. The UAE wants to emphasise on financing ports and shipping and is prepared to table $75 billion to underline their objectives.

Upping the ante in strategic ties

India and the Arab world are steadily upping the ante in their bilateral ties. It is a carefully crafted, but result oriented, process with Exercise Desert Flag - VI being one such suitable representation. The IAF has been actively contributing in operational international exercises, wherein collaborative engagements are enhanced. The UAE stint for India’s fighter pilots and operations crew provided an opportunity for valuable learnings which would add to bolstering their professional capabilities.

The journey does not stop here, however. The UAE and Indian naval forces will be teaming up with their French counterparts for a first-ever trilateral exercise in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman from April 25-27, under the Varuna banner. In addition, India, the US, Australia, and Japan (QUAD), willshowcase their naval capabilities, along with France, in the Bay of Bengal from April 4 to 7, under the La Perouse banner.

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